You Never Even Call Me By My (First) Name

Posted by Jesse

We should all just have one name like Rihanna.

Danny’s got business out of town this weekend, which means I’ll be handling the girls, which on the weekend typically means releasing them to or receiving them from other parents in a series of social events and recreational activities. Take one to the mall, take two to tennis lessons, get back the one from the mall plus a friend, send one to a birthday party with a car pool, drop another at a play date and have her dropped back off later….the usual. I can generally handle it, plus the girls know roughly where they’re supposed to be when, PLUS Danny types every move up on a schedule he leaves on the kitchen counter when he departs (note: he’s a bit of a nerd, but I’m really not cracking on him here. If I were leaving my kids with me, I’d leave a few notes around. And call. Often)

But what I really need is for him to start typing the names of the adults I am likely to encounter on these activities. Full names. Because I have this conversation a lot:

Kimmy Gibbler’s Dad: “Well, I think Stephanie and Kimmy had a great time at the party.”

Me: “I’m sure they did. Thanks again for driving, Mr. Gibbler”

Kimmy Gibbler’s Dad: “Please, call me Tom.”

Which I would be happy to do. Except I had no idea what the man’s first name is. Danny already explained his own difficulty in remembering names, and I’m not much better. But this is a more specific phenomenon.

Not too say I’m popular, but even before moving in with the Tanners I had a few friends. I grew up in big schools and a large church. I worked at a large summer camp. I lived in a few different cities. All of which is to say I’m in a few large pools of friends. Moving in with the Tanners added a whole new pool of people. Actually it was more like adding an ocean. School friends, swimming club friends, church friends, neighbors, friends of the girls (and their parents) (and their siblings), Danny’s friends (and their kids)…they are all now my friends.

And don’t get me wrong: we are grateful for every one of them. Danny and I occasionally remark on how much of an impact all of our collective friends have had on the past year, and how much more difficult situations like this must be for folks who are more alone (side note: maybe this weekend would be a good one to reach out to a cancer-surviving family? Not us! We’re good this weekend).

But it’s a lot of people. And I only had about two months of grace period before I felt like I couldn’t ask for names anymore because I had probably been introduced to everyone. So there I am, walking around at one of the Stephanie’s birthday sleepovers, asking DJ and Michelle to tell me who is who. And I’ve learned some. I am almost positive I can name, at sight, each of the girls’ 5-10 best friends (probably a few more for DJ than Michelle, since I see the older kids more and typically they’re easier to remember as they develop a little more personality).

Teachers are especially difficult because I only ever hear to them referred to by their last name! But they’re especially important because they were also Lisa’s co-workers and good friends. Some of them have clearly spotted the look of unfamiliarity on my face and have introduced (or re-introduced) themselves. Thank you, Mrs. (Sharon) Keen!

It only added to the headache when I took on the role of Cross Country coach at the girls’ school (sorry, Stephanie, that does in fact mean you have to run on the team next year….or walk home after school). I’m there on day one, and because I do believe names are important I am trying my darndest to learn all of the kids’ full names as quickly as possible. But, of course, it’s also the one day that the parents dropping off are going to introduce themselves, meaning while I’m fretting about making some kid feel left out in the first week because he’s the one name I don’t remember, my window of opportunity to scoop up some adult first names is closing rapidly. (this also leads to an off-shoot of the “parents I only know by last name”; the “parents I know by their abbreviated email handles”).

So let’s just pick a round number and say I have met 800 new people that I know interact with through Danny and the girls. That’s a lot of new names, right? But of these 800 many, as I’ve pointed out, are related. Thus the number of new families would be more like 250 or 300, a much more manageable number. And, unless you’re a hyper-educated, uber-progressive like my sister Sallie, most people in the same family have the same last name. And that’s the one I work hardest to learn.

Yes, I was raised to respect my elders and greet them with formal names. Yes, I tend to think of myself as perpetually 18 and much more a part of DJ’s generation than, ugh, her parents. But to be honest…I’m probably calling you Mr. or Mrs. because, even if deep down I knew it was Tom, my thought process probably went something like this:

.…there’s an adult I should know…..whose friend is it….it’s one of DJ’s friends….no Stephanie….no DJ…’s Kimmy’s Dad….or is it Maggie’s….no it’s Kimmy’s….Kimmy Gibbler….he’s Mr. Gibbler…he’s….he’s…I think he’s Tom Gibb–

“Hellllloooo, Mr. Gibbler!”

Siblings fair no better with me. If I see Kimmy’s little brother and the name doesn’t pop in fast enough, I just call him Mr. Gibbler, too, only I say it with inflection as if I’m saying a cool nickname so as not to give away the fact that I’m clueless.

“Ah, yes. Mista Gibblerrrr.”

It’s enough of a task being able to put the right parent with the right child and siblings. No one notices how much I beam when DJ has multiple friends over to spend the night, and the next morning I am able to correctly identify which child is being picked up just by seeing their parent.

“Kimmy, doesn’t your Dad drive a grey suburban? I think he’s here.”

To be fair, I try to return the favors when it comes to learning names. When I started hanging around the school one of the teachers said, “Well what should I call you, because I only know and hear of you as Uncle Hayes?”

“Well if it’s easiest you can just call me Uncle Hayes.”

And so she does.

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  1. Jean

     /  April 15, 2011

    I can relate! We have gained lots of new friends in our lives as a result of “living half in Raleigh” this year. Wonderful people. Thoughtful, caring, you name it but I have never been good at names but since no one knows that, I’m just going to use the excuse of old age. Tough that you can’t hide behind being old, Jessie. It can be a useful tool sometimes. You’ll just have to find another excuse…too young, lame brained (which no one would believe), new in town…been gone for years. You’ll come up with one. You’re smart and creative. I have faith in you. Just flash those blue eyes and give them a smile and you’ll be ok.

  2. My wife doesn’t use names! I am you,yew,yu,or U. Some times I won’t respond. She says I am talking to you. I say I know but I am Harold you were talking to you not me. 😉 She asks for someone to do something, anybody can but nobody does because everyone knows someone will. Exactly who we don’t know! 🙂

    Keep trying for the names Jesse, and you will get them. Sure makes communication easier and more exact!

  3. well if she ever calls you “ewe” you can just say you thought she was talking to the passing sheep!

  4. Aunt Susan

     /  April 15, 2011

    It’s a family thing Jesse, I remember your Dad calling your sister’s names, your name, your mom, his mom, his mother-in-law before he would get mine.
    after the three of you I would guess it was me and answer him.

    It’s tough, I now go through all my students names at times, but they know who I want.

  5. I have similar difficulties. To add to them, I’m not a native Jersey speaker and the accent can be a bit troublesome at times. . .”Taylor” gets pronounced “Tara” (yeah, I don’t get it either). . .

  6. King

     /  April 19, 2011

    Hmmm. “Uncle Hayes” it is!

    So, you’re saying, “Hola mi amor!” doesn’t work?

    I GET your specific problem — diving into a big unfamiliar pool, and trying to stuff as many new names into the pockets of your brain as you can. This ain’t your father’s brain. Yours isn’t a problem born of familiarity, confusion, and forgetting. Nope. Yours is a problem of unfamiliarity and excess. I DO like your intent and as you know from the kids and students: people who you’ve met a few times do truly appreciate it when you know their names. But you’re priorities are spot on: stick to getting the kids’ names down. Parents can stay “Mr.” & “Mrs.” We KNOW you’ll strangely recall the ones you’ll WANT to remember 😉 (this is G-rated, right?)

    Better, far better than those parents who refer to their children as “Little Man.” WTF? NO CHILD should be called, “Little Man.” But that’s another blog.


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